Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Great American Heroes-Whittaker Chambers

Whittaker Chambers was an American writer and editor who stood athwart history with William F. Buckley yelling stop in creating The National Review, the highly influential conservative journal. While this is a significant enough accomplishment to make him a hero in my book, he is best known and most worthy of designation as a hero for his part in the trial and conviction on charges of perjury of Alger Hiss. Hiss, a former State Department official was a highly respected figure in Washington D.C. political circles and had been a central player in America's wartime diplomacy and attended both the Yalta and Potsdam conferences as an American representative. He later served as president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. In other words, he was one of the "ruling class" (spoken with a sneer). Chambers on the other hand was a former Communist Party member who had admitted to serving as a spy for the Soviet Union. He left the Communist Party in 1938 and offered his services to the FBI as an informant on Communist activities in the U.S. He credits his embrace of Christianity as his principal motivation for leaving the Communist Party. He was decidedly not a member of the "ruling class." On August 3, 1948, in testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee, Chambers accused Hiss of being a Soviet spy and member of the Communist Party. Hiss, of course, vehemently denied the charges, claiming that he did not even know Chambers. He had the backing of the political elite including President Truman who called the charges a "red herring." Despite countercharges of slander and vicious personal attacks against him, Chambers persisted in his accusations against Hiss and eventually was vindicated after producing evidence in the form of micro-film of classified State Department documents that he had kept stored in hollowed out pumpkins on his farm. These so-called "Pumpkin Papers" were used to support his claim that Hiss had passed the documents to him for delivery to the Soviet Union. The end result of the trial was that Hiss served 44 months in prison for perjury. He was not convicted of espionage because the statute of limitations had expired on those activities. Hiss claimed his innocence until his death, but more evidence has surfaced in recent years which leave little doubt that he was guilty. In 1984, President Ronald Reagan posthumously awarded Chambers the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his contribution to "the century's epic struggle between freedom and totalitarianism."

1 comment:

  1. Bravo, American Exceptionalism!

    Not to be contentious, but a great deal of material has surfaced even since Reagan's award to Chambers, much of it throwing doubt on Chambers' charges. For one, it is a fact that no mention of Hiss's name as an agent has ever surfaced in either the GRU or KGB files. As a 'source' yes, but what the USSR classified as sources included the 'New York Times,' General George Marshall, Harry Hopkins, and hundreds of others who worked in government --- not professional espionage agents, unpaid or otherwise, but people who gave information to the public in general and to foreign countries as part and parcel of their jobs.

    To see the information on the Hiss/Chambers Case, the best web sites I have found are the Alger Hiss web site : http://homepages.nyu.edu/~th15/home.html and the Svetlana Chervonnaya web site: DocumentsTalk.com/, Chervonnaya being a Russian scholar of some repute.

    Best regards,
    jim crawford
    Westwood NJ